Cole Position: An insider’s view on the 2011 Race of Champions (ROAD Magazine Special)

Cole Position: An insider's view on the 2011 Race of Champions (ROAD Magazine Special)

This is precisely the kind of article I enjoy reading, a fly on the wall insight into a special event that most of us can only view from afar.

Created in 1988 by former rally driver Michèle Mouton, the only female WRC event winner, and Fredrik Johnsson, the Race of Champions has become the most eagerly-anticipated after party of the motorsport season. This year’s event, run on the 3rd and 4th December, returned to Dusseldorf’s ESPRIT Arena, the venue where relative newcomer Felipe Albuquerque took the overall ‘Champion of Champions’ cup in 2010.

Taking part this year were seven-time F1 champion Michael Schumacher, the reigning 2011 F1 title-holder Sebastian Vettel and a selection of the biggest names on two and four wheels including, Moto-X rider and rallycross driver Travis Pastrana, 2011 DTM champion Martin Tomczyk, Britain’s Jenson Button and Andy Priaulx, F1 drivers Vitaly Petrov, Timo Glock and Romain Grosjean and of course last year’s RoC Champion of Champions, the Portugese DTM driver Felipe Albuquerque.

Neil Cole interviews the irrepressible Travis PastranaNeil Cole interviews the irrepressible Travis Pastrana.

For the first time in ages, multiple WRC champion Sebastien Loeb was absent from the field, but in his place were three rising stars of rallying; Sébastien Ogier (Loeb’s Citroen WRC team mate in 2011), Jan Kopecký (2011 IRC runner-up for Skoda) and Juho Hänninen (Super 2000 WRC champion in 2011).

Naturally, the bookies’ favourite was Sebastian Vettel, the man who could do no wrong in F1 during 2011, clinching his second successive drivers title, but the field was more than adequately blessed with champions, including three F1 world champions, together with champions of DTM, X-Games, WTCC and Le Mans.

If you haven’t already seen the highlights, then I’ll not spoil the surprise by telling you who wins, but you can get up to speed by watching the official review video fronted by well-known TV presenter, Neil Cole.

In fact, that’s the real reason for this post, to draw your attention to Neil’s first column in ROAD magazine, appropriately named “Cole Position”.

Neil has been a familiar face on our TV screens during recent years, presenting the official WRC coverage on DAVE and live interviews at Race of Champion events. This time he provides an exclusive insight for ROAD readers into what it really feels like to muck around off-camera with the finest drivers in the world.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed bringing it to you.

Neil has an on-camera chat with Michael SchumacherNeil has an on-camera chat with Michael Schumacher.

Race Of Champions 2011

I am standing in an underground car-park, shoulder to shoulder with Jenson Button, Andy Priaulx and Travis Pastrana – three men at the very top of their individual trees.

We are watching the live TV output of a race… a race taking place about 40 feet and several thousand tonnes of concrete, grass, metal and tarmac above our heads.

The camera cuts to an onboard shot of Tom Kristensen’s face – clearly visible in HD & an open-face helmet – wide-eyed, gurning and snarling as he fights a KTM X-Bow around a tight 1.2km parallel circuit. All four of us burst out laughing at the Le Mans’ legend’s extreme facial expressions.

“TK – you’re an ANIMAL!” says JB. (Initials are the usual abbreviation, just ask DC) and everybody laughs again.

This is the spirit of Race Of Champions. It has the feel of a millionaire’s stag weekend: yes, all the drivers are there to WIN, and to represent their sponsors and charities, but ultimately it is the closest we get to the Good Old Days of Motorsport where gentlemen drivers would walk out of the pub, stub out a cigarette, jump in the cockpit, spit on their hands and RACE.

Read the remainder of Neil’s article in ROAD 22: “Motorsport Monsters”.

Keep up to speed with Neil on Twitter – @neilcole and Facebook.